A Professor, a President, and a Meteor
The Birth of American Science
By Cathryn J. Prince
(Prometheus Books, Hardcover, 9781616142247, 254pp.)
Publication Date: November 2010
List Price: $26.00*
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Based on a wealth of original source documents and interiews with current experts in history, astronomy, and geology, this journalist tells the remarkable story of Benjamin Silliman, arguably America's first bonafide scientist. In a lively narrative rich with fascinating historical detail, the author documents the primitive state of American science at the time; Silliman's careful analysis of the meteor samples; and the publication of his conclusions, which contradicted both popular superstitions regarding meteors as ominous portents and a common belief that meteors come from volcanic eruptions on the moon.
She also describes Silliman's struggles to build a chemistry department at Yale with rudimentary material; new insights into geology that resulted from his analysis of the meteor; and his report to the prestigious French Academy, which raised the prestige of American science. Finally, she discusses the political turbulence of the time, which Silliman could not escape, and how the meteor event was used to drive a wedge between New England and Jefferson.
This is a fascinating vignette of Federal Period America when science on this continent was still in its infancy, but was just beginning to make its mark.
"[A] tour-de-force look at early American science."
"A captivating tale of America's entry into the world of science, told with such graceful prose and fascinating detail that at times you feel you are there."
– Richard Z. Chesnoff, The Huffington Post